Faisal Ashraf, 38, Head of Large Loan Capital Markets, Cantor Commercial Real Estate
Brokerage Cantor Fitzgerald launched its CCRE lending platform four years ago to fill the vacuum as big banks curtailed their lending. And last July, Faisal Ashraf came on board to build the large-loan biz. Since then, the company has put out $2.3B in large loans.
To get here, Faisal, the son of a Pakistan ambassador, was born in Kenya. At 2, he moved to Mozambique and at 4 to Pakistan. Then it was off to Australia, then Katmandu in Nepal, Korea, and back to Pakistan. Along the way, he picked up Swahili, Portugese, Urdu, Nepalese, and English. That kind of upbringing makes you sensitive to different cultures, he says, but American pop culture—the music and the movies—drove his dreams; he wanted to dance like Michael Jackson and play basketball like Michael Jordan.
College afforded him the opportunity to come to the States, and his parents acquiesced as long as he picked a school near his uncle. So out came the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and Faisal enrolled at Hofstra in ’94 at age 18.
Long Island wasn't the America he'd seen in the movies, and his lack of knowledge of other pop culture confused things. He didn't really have an accent, so fellow students often assumed he was American—so why wasn't he talking about the latest football game with the rest of them? Now, though football doesn't interest him, he at least knows the Cowboys hail from Dallas. Still, when he tried to hold a World Cup-viewing event for clients this summer, the only CCRE folks who showed were interns (soccer's gaining ground among the young 'uns), so he concedes that he’s still not on quite the same page as his peers.
When school and his student visa were over, Faisal identified three sectors doing the most hiring: finance, law, and tech. The latter two weren’t for him, so he cold-called hundreds on Wall Street (the reams of rejection were great prep for his career, he says). Moody’s Tad Phillip was one of the few who returned his call, and Moody's was the only firm willing to sponsor a visa—hence Faisal’s path into real estate. He worked for Tad for two years and then joined DLJ as an analyst. Credit Suisse acquired DLJ, and he worked for the bank’s real estate finance and securitization practices in London and then back in NY. For all these six years, he never heard back about his green card inquiry. Then he got married in ’05, and it simply arrived in the mail.
Faisal makes his job sound like a no brainer: He has four to six meetings a day in which originators present lending opportunities; he asks a few questions, assesses the risk, and says yay or nay. It’s not that it’s easy, though, he says. It’s practice and repetition that make the decisions less intimidating. There’s one decision he’s more certain of than any other: He and his wife are raising a 4.5-year-old daughter in Tribeca, and after all his moving around, they’re New Yorkers for life, he says.